Blue Jays: Fastball velocity is not a priority in the starting rotation

The Blue Jays have significantly upgraded their starting rotation over the winter, however, the improvement likely won’t come from the radar gun.

When the Blue Jays began the off-season, their biggest priority was improving their starting rotation. The fans knew it, the players knew, and it was so obvious that even the front office came out and stated that they would seek to make improvements to that part of the roster.

Thankfully they were able to do just that, signing Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, and Shun Yamaguchi as free agents, trading for Chase Anderson, and retaining Matt Shoemaker, who should be healthy after a lost season to a knee injury. If Yamaguchi makes the team out of Spring Training there’s a chance we could be looking at a complete overhaul, and that’s not a bad thing for the Blue Jays after a difficult year from their thin starting group in 2019.

What’s interesting about the new set of starters is that none of them rely on an elite fastball to be effective. In fact, I would place most of them in the “finesse” type of mold, and that could arguably even extend as far as their sixth and seventh starting options like Trent Thornton and Ryan Borucki.

Starting with Ryu, he’s well known for his effective repertoire, but it’s not one that relies heavily on a fastball. In 2019 (while leading the NL in ERA), Ryu averaged 90.7 miles per hour on his fastball according to Baseball Savant, also throwing a sinker at 90.1 mph, and a cutter at 87.0. He’s also heavily reliant on an effective change-up, so we’re basically looking at a more effective, left-handed version of Marco Estrada. It’s not a perfect comp, but you get the idea.

Tanner Roark throws a little harder, but there’s not a tremendous difference. He relies on a fastball-sinker-slider combo, throwing his heater for an average of 92.1 mph in 2019, and the sinker at 91.9. Shoemaker had a small sample size before getting injured last season, but he was in the same realm with a fastball averaging 90.3, and his sinker actually beating the “heater” at 90.5.

The hardest thrower of the current group, at least until Nate Pearson eventually debuts, will be Chase Anderson. That said, his velocity isn’t overwhelming by any means, as he averaged 93.3 mph, with his sinker actually matching the same number. His arsenal also includes a cutter that came in at 90.3 last season, so he stands to be the “flamethrower” of the veteran group. Yamaguchi is said to have a fastball that maxed out at 95.4 mph last season in Japan, but we don’t have quite the same data on him to look at, and it’s possible he could pitch out the bullpen. He would presumably raise the velocity bar for the rotation if he wins the fifth spot though.

If you extend it a little further, the kids could bring a little more heat to the table. Trent Thornton averaged 92.9 on his fastball last season as as rookie, and 91.9 with his sinker. Anthony Kay took it up a notch to 93.3 during his brief MLB stint, and Borucki averaged 91.5 with his sinker in 2018, not really using a traditional fastball. And then of course there’s Nate Pearson, and the potential of seeing a fastball reaching 104 mph or higher.

Next: John Gibbons latches on with the Atlanta Braves

For now, the veteran starting group won’t be looking to blow opposing hitters away, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s easier to go deeper in games when you’re pitching to contact, or at least less reliant on strikeouts, which can run up a pitch count in a hurry. With talent, experience, and more extensive repertoires, the Blue Jays should have a much improved rotation in 2020, even if they’re not the hardest throwing group ever assembled.

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